Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Hobby: Collecting Hobbies

I have come to the realization that there is a hazard inherent in possessing a broad range of interests. I have a tendency to accumulate hobbies and projects. This can be problematic for someone with the attention span of a gnat. Something (usually stumbled upon serendipitously) grabs my interest, I throw myself into it with zeal for a while, researching it, cobbling together just enough resources to get my feet wet, then.... Ooh, shiney!  Something else captures my attention.

Rinse, repeat....

And so it goes. Over time, my home fills with the detritus of unfinished projects, a mishmash of half-finished wonders and curiosities. (There's another hobby of mine: finding opportunities to use the word "detritus." It tickles me to say it. Detritus! Hehe.) And, all along, I think to myself "I'll get around to finishing that...someday." Consequently, I've become somewhat notorious for starting projects and not finishing them. The rare occasion when I DO finish a project is therefore truly cause for celebration.

So, as an aid to myself in organizing and prioritizing these hobbies and projects, and to give others a bit of insight into my interests, I present my hitherto unknown "List of Hobbies and Projects," complete with annotations regarding their current status. Enjoy.

  • Genealogy

    As hobbies go, I have to admit that this is one with which I've had more luck sticking to than others. I really got started in 2004, just a matter of months before my mother passed away. I've been fortunate enough to be able to dig back far enough to intersect with the work of other researchers on many of my family lines, and I've been focusing on filling in the gaps. For the past three years, I've served on the Board of Trustees of the Pace Society of America, an organization devoted to genealogical research involving the Pace surname (although I've sadly missed the last two national meetings). I've gone about as far as I can go with online research (except whenever sites such as ancestry.com add new content), and am in dire need of visiting numerous courthouses and cemeteries around the country, as well as needing to visit the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library in Knoxville to study the Rhea Papers. I'm also needing to consolidate and compile the results of my research thus far into a more easily-digestible format, which I've really only done thus far with one of my family lines.

    A few years ago, my interest in genealogy briefly intersected with my interest in programming. I had the brilliant idea of writing a family tree viewer which would allow the user to navigate through familial relationships in a rich 3D environment. I studied the GEDCOM specification and started planning out how I would write a GEDCOM parser. But, before I had a chance to write a single line of code, a new version of MacFamilyTree came out with the very feature I had envisioned. Timing, as they say, is everything.

  • Wet-Plate Collodian Photography

    Some of the oldest objects in my possession are a handful of "tintype" family photographs dating back to just after the Civil War. In researching how to care for and preserve these photographs (even going so far as to consult with an expert on the subject at the Harry Ransom Center), it was only natural for me to wish to delve deeply into how they were made. Combined with a pre-existing long-standing interest in photography, a desire to try my own hand at it followed naturally. Heading along the path to making my own "handmade" photographs, I have acquired several antique lenses, as well as materials for building a camera body. The only thing currently standing in my way is figuring out a way to mount my box-joint jig to the mitre guide of my table saw, a task which I probably could have completed in less time than it took to write this article.

  • Bookbinding

    Once upon a time (in 1993, in fact), while performing at the Texas Renaissance Festival, I portrayed for a time a pikeman in the Newmarket Guard. In fleshing out the background details of the character, I decided that his occupation was that of bookbinder.  Naturally, the next step was to research that skill a bit such that I would "know the lingo" and be able to convincingly pass myself off as such a craftsman. Before I knew it, I was actually wanting to try my hand at bookbinding. I acquired several books on the topic, but was stymied on acquiring certain tools and materials. (The nascent Web had not yet become a hotbed of e-commerce where one could obtain just about anything imaginable.) And so, this emerging hobby was nipped in the bud, never to be pursued further. But, perhaps someday....

  • Galvanic Etching

    For several years now, I've been intrigued by the "steampunk" aesthetic, and I have been mightily impressed by the work of some of the artists and craftsmen who have embraced it. Among these is one Jake Vonn Slatt, who, among other things, has embraced "galvanic etching" as an artform. (It is essentially the same process as electro-plating, except that the piece being worked is placed on the opposite electrode such that metal is removed rather than being added.) It is a rather simple process, and I've acquired most of the tools and materials necessary to try my hand at this, but simply have yet to bring them all together. I was distracted by some other interest, but do not recall what....

  • Clockmaking

    As with bookbinding, clockmaking is another potential hobby which has never really gone past the research stage. Books and plans eagerly await my order once I have the time. (Yeah, I know that things hate to be anthropomorphized.)

  • Woodworking

    I've long enjoyed engaging in woodworking projects, especially with my brothers. We've built a bed frame for my spare bedroom, but we still need to complete the headboard. To really do it the way I would like to, I need to make some progress on another project listed next, a CNC routing machine. I'm also wanting to build a 12' x 16' gambrel roof storage shed (with loft) for my backyard, but I need to finish drawing up plans so that I can apply for a building permit. Once that is built, I'll be able to free up a tremendous amount of space in my garage. And, at some point down the road, I would like to build some nice dining room chairs to replace the mishmash of chairs I currently have. Of course, good hardwoods are expensive.

  • CNC Milling/Routing Machine

    You may have noticed a pattern thus far: I like to make things. An important part of that is having the right tools. And the geek in me likes for those tools to be computer-controlled. I desperately want to build a CNC router or milling machine. About a year ago, I wrote a rudimentary G-CODE interpreter, G-CODE being the standard programming language for driving CNC devices. However, my big stumbling block has been interfacing the computer with the physical world. It was a heck of a lot easier in the old days when all computers came with old-fashioned serial and parallel ports. RS232 was easy to deal with. Now things are getting easier again. Over the weekend, I acquired an Arduino micro-controller.

  • Arduino Programming

    Arduino is an open-source hardware and software platform for providing digital and analog interfaces between computers and the physical world for rapid prototyping. I've made excellent progress thus far with the simple sample projects described in the book which accompanied my Arduino, and now I'm wondering where I can get my hands on bulk quantities of discarded floppy drives so that I can cannibalize their stepper motors. Soon, nothing will be able to stop my army of robotic minions and... Oops, inner monologue on speakerphone again.

  • Gardening

    I've come to a stark realization. As much as I enjoy gardening and having access to fresh, home grown veggies, the soil does does not get along with me. Nor do the searing hot central Texas summers. My current garden, an experiment in utilizing the square-foot gardening method, has resulted in mediocre, weak, malnourished bug-eaten plants. The geek inside of me has lately been whispering to me, "Take it inside. Use aeroponics and LED lighting. Nutrients, moisture, lighting, and temperature will be tightly controlled. Arduino-controlled. With a camera-bot to automatically take time-lapse images of each plant each day. Wouldn't that be cool? Monitor and control through the Web. And enjoy fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, and collard greens year-round." Tempting, and even doable, but likely overkill. Besides, I think I should master more basics first.

  • Motorcycles

    About a year and a half ago, I finally took the MSF RiderCourse and added the Motorcycle Class to my Driver License. Alas, I've not yet procured a bike. I'm not wanting to go further in debt, so I would rather not finance, but other expenses have kept me from being able to save enough for an outright cash purchase. But I am soooo Jonesing to ride....

  • Aviation

    A decade ago, I was taking flying lessons, but never finished. My biggest mistake was buying a house on the side of town opposite from the airport. My biggest regret, never getting to build and fly a Cozy Mk. IV. Occasionally, the skies still call to me....

  • Painting/drawing

    When I was a kid, if I wasn't reading, I was drawing. I come from an artistically-inclined family, and I enjoy creating art, yet I've done so precious little since reaching adulthood. I miss it, and really should get back into it. I keep telling myself that....

  • Sailing

    Growing up far inland upon the Llano Estacado, the sea has always held a certain allure and fascination for me. To this day, visiting the shore remains a special treat for me. When I started portraying a pirate character at TRF and delved into character research, that interest only grew.  I've even learned during the course of my genealogical research that one of my ancestors, Matthew "The Rebel" Campbell, was a ship's master. I long to sail, and I've procured a vessel: a 24' homebuilt Piver Nugget trimaran, which I have decided to dub "Fiddler's Green." Alas, I've not yet put it in the water. It is as old as I, and desperately in need of work, mainly paint and some fiberglass repair.  I've removed the outboard hulls (the "amas"), and have stripped the old paint from them.  I've also erected hull cradles to hold them upright while I redo the fiberglass on their tops, which will be the next step. That will have to wait until September or October when it is no longer too hot out to work with epoxy resin. After the fiberglass is repaired, I'll repaint the amas, then move on to the primary hull. Working on that will be a fairly big challenge, especially when it comes to removing the boat from the trailer and flipping it to repaint the hull. I have a plan regarding how to go about that, but it will be a daunting task.

  • Music Theory

    From the 5th grade through my first semester of college, I played the trombone. Sure, I was taught how to read music, but I was never exposed to the true fundamentals of music theory. All of my life, I had been puzzled about why musical scales are structured the way they are. What is the real difference between major and minor scales? Why does the only major scale in Western music without sharps or flats start on a C rather than an A as one would expect? Over the years, I've managed to find the answers to questions such as these through independent study, and on more than one occasion, I've been tempted to write an introductory text on the topic for the benefit of others with similar questions (as opposed to most existing introductory texts, which seem to focus on notation). After all, I have such copious quantities of spare time.

  • Instrument Making

    I've mentioned my enjoyment of making things, as well as my interest in woodworking. One area where I've wanted to apply these interests is in making musical instruments. I suppose that started when I got my hands on a concertina (which I am still endeavoring to learn to play). It is a cheap, mass-produced 20-button Anglo concertina, with a garish, shiny red finish and plastic buttons that tend to stick. I look online at higher-end models that, realistically-speaking, are well outside of my price range (especially for an instrument for which I've not yet mastered the rudiments), and I think to myself, "Ooh, so pretty. I think I could build one of those."  In fact, I probably could. The bellows would be made in much the same way as the bellows for the wet-plate camera that I'm planning to build. I've disassembled the concertina I own (hoping to figure out a way to fix the sticking buttons - I think I need more robust button springs), and the internal structure is rather simple, but I don't really see the point in expending the effort until such time as I really learn to play the instrument. If I do end up building one, I imagine that it will be a 30-button model to open up the range of available keys.

    More recently, I had an opportunity to try my hand at playing a bowed psaltery while visiting Scarborough Faire. It is a rather simple instrument, both to play and, seemingly, to build, and might serve well as a starter luthier project. I've found several sites on the Web describing how to do so, but have not yet taken any steps in the direction of making it a reality. After all, I already have plenty of projects on my plate.

    On top of that, I wouldn't mind trying my hand at building a hurdy gurdy. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is because it is an instrument which few people have ever seen or heard. Most people would not have even heard OF it were it not for the Donavan song of the same name. (When he wrote the song, Donovan supposedly had never seen or heard the instrument, but wrote it for a friend who was in a band called "Hurdy Gurdy.") Helping to bring such an ancient instrument back from obscurity holds some appeal for me.

  • "Spyglass' Wee Book O' Sea Shanties"

    One little side project that I work on now and again is compiling a small booklet of sea shanties (a holdover from my days of portraying Spyglass), transposing as I go into the keys of C and G (the keys which are playable on my concertina). The first step was figuring out how to get Lilypond (a music engraving program) to integrate with LaTeX (the venerable typesetting program). Once that hurdle was overcome, I began, bit by bit, getting some of my favorite shanties down in print, but have only completed a few thus far. I also plan on including some hand-drawn illustrations, an opportunity to resurrect my drawing skills.

  • Physics

    When I withdrew from grad school in January of 1992, I did so with every intention of eventually returning. Alas, as the years have gone by, the prospects of that actually happening have whithered more and more. Putting aside for a moment the income crunch while attending school (which could be partially offset by attending on a part-time basis), I can't really imagine the prospect of handling the paycut afterwards that would accompany getting a post-doc position. That having been said, I do miss it, and regret having what was intended to be my profession sidelined into an avocation. In an effort to jump-start the old neurons, I've engaged in a program of self-study, both to review the things I've forgotten, and to push out beyond what I learned in grad school. My primary areas of interest are the foundations of quantum theory, the measurement problem, collapse theory, and gauge theory. (If I ever get my head around Lie algebras, I'll consider myself lucky.)

    I'm currently re-reading Rindler's Essential Relativity. (I had the pleasure of meeting Wolfgang Rindler at a conference when I was an undergrad. Very nice fellow.) Next on deck will be A Unified Grand Tour of Theoretical Physics by Ian D. Lawrie, Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics by Feynman and Weinberg, Feynman's Thesis, A Guide to Feynman Diagrams in the Many-Body Problem by Mattuck, The Theory of Fundamental Processes by Feynman, Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell by Zee, Foundations of Space-Time Theories by Friedman, The Inflationary Universe by Guth, Supersymmetry by Binétruy, and A First Course in String Theory by Zwiebach. This will take a while....

  • Ground Penetrating RADAR

    I don't recall the details, but I suspect that it was through a documentary sometime in the early to mid 90's that I was first exposed to the concept of ground penetrating radar, primarily as applied to the field of archeology. It caught my interest, and I have long pondered ways of improving the functionality of the technology. Of late, I've wondered if synthetic aperture radar technology could be applied to the problem, or perhaps even nascent quantum radar technologies. Up to this point, this has been primarily an intellectual exercise, but I sometimes find myself tinkering with the prospect of building my own GPR rig for experimentation, a prospect which has recently been bolstered by finding an account by a grad student of building a simple, inexpensive SAR setup using recycled hardware. Hmm. I do have an old microwave oven sitting around whose magnetron would make a nice emitter....

This list is by no means comprehensive. I've not included a litany of home improvement projects and repairs that I have queued up, nor my desire to transform the old propane tank sitting in my back yard into a smoker. Not to mention... well, you get the point. There is always something to do. If nothing else, I am never bored!

If there is a common strand running through all of this, it seems that most of these projects tend to get held up by one or more of three limitations: money, time, and energy.  Regarding the latter, have I mentioned that I am intrinsically lazy? After a long day of work (and a long commute), it is so much easier to plop down in front of the TV with my laptop, researching potential new hobbies.

1 comment:

Garfield said...

You do realize, do you not, that you have just epitomized the gifted learner? While I don't have as many projects sitting around as you do and mine are not quite as varied an interest, I have the same problem at my house.